The Blue Cliff Zen Sangha is an independent Soto Zen Buddhist community. We like to say we are a Soto community with a North American accent.
Our senior teacher, James Myoun Ford's ordination lineage comes from Houn Jiyu Kennett, the first Western woman to receive Dharma transmission in the Soto tradition. We also transmit the Soto reformed koan curriculum developed by Daiun Sogaku Harada at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
While we are a part of the emerging North American Soto Zen community we have some differences from other Soto communities. For one we do not privilege ordained practice over lay. And we fully acknowledge lay teachers. We also have some different requirements for our ordained clergy than found with the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. We consider the SZBA very important to the establishment of Soto in North America. And so our differences are not undertaken lightly.
Our senior priest, Ford Osho was an early member of the SZBA, participated in its first Dharma Heritage ceremony in 2004. In 2012 he served as doshi or principal celebrant for that year's Dharma Heritage ceremony. He also served on the SZBA board for a three-year term. He remains a member of the SZBA. (And, it should be noted, of the American Zen Teachers Association, as well. He served on the AZTA's membership committee for a decade.)
However our clergy are not necessarily members of the SZBA. The turning question going forward is whether an ango experience is necessary in the formation of a Soto Zen priest in North America or whether it is beneficial, but need not be a hard requirement. We argue the later view, that it is beneficial but not essential. We encourage those who ordain within our community to do one or more ango, if at all possible.
However within the Blue Cliff within our formation program we require significant retreat time, at least three hundred days of sesshin as part of our formation program for a fully transmitted priest or lay teacher. But this expectation need not be completed within ango. That said if a priest's life allows the ango experience, we do require it. Following the current SZBA guidelines, this may be done in either a single ninety ango, or with four three week residential intensives.
It is important to note there are people at the other end of the practice spectrum who do not consider extensive Zen meditation practice necessary for priests and teachers. We strongly disagree, believing no one should be teaching Zen and especially its heart practice without a long and intimate experience within the discipline. So, in fact, we see that near year of days of retreat a minimum for adequate formation for a meditation teacher within our tradition.
There are, of course, other expectations for ordination or authorization as a lay teacher. These largely map those of the SZBA. Also we consider koan introspection a central part of our normative training program and an important part of the formation of our Zen teachers both lay and ordained. Those of our priests who complete an ango are otherwise eligible to join the SZBA, which we encourage. And all our teachers are eligible to join the AZTA.
We seek to collaborate with other communities transmitting the Soto inheritance to North America and the West seeking appropriate but rigorous preparation for priests and teachers as well as to find forms of mutual accountability.
Other communities with which we have close lineage or other connections:
Boundless Way Zen
Bright Way Zen
Dharma Rain Zen Center
Empty Sky Zen Sangha
Greater Heartland Buddhist Temple of Toledo
Long Beach Buddhist Church Zen Sangha
Maria Kannon Zen Center
Nebraska Zen Center
Pacific Zen Institute
Rocks and Clouds Zendo